Mental effects of alcohol is long-term damage
THE majority of people know about the physical ill effects of drinking to excess, but the long-term mental and behavioural consequences can be just as damaging.
Too much alcohol, even among people who wouldn't consider they have a drink problem, can lead to irreversible memory problems and more, a Gloucestershire consultant gastroenterologist has warned.
Dr Hashir Kriel has spoken out about the irreversible problems which occur with Korsakoff's psychosis – a mental and behavioural condition.
He said: "Most people would consider things like liver disease as the main consequence of excess alcohol.
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"But mental and behavioural disorders do feature very high on the list of alcohol-attributable problems."
While less than 10 hospital admissions where Korsakoff's psychosis was diagnosed have been made this year, the average time these patients stay in hospital can be between four and six weeks.
The condition, which is most often seen in the 40-to-60 age group and predominantly in men, results in people having trouble acquiring new memories.
"If I get them to read a newspaper article, I will ask them what's new in the news. Although they have read the article they wont be able to recall it.
"They also have some problems with retrograde memory and will have some gaps in their memory.
"A lot of the time people are able to have a reasonable, superficial conversation but what you identify as part of Korsakoff's psychosis is something called confabulation – making up things to fill in the gaps," he said. Korsakoff's psychosis is the far end of the spectrum, he said, being preceded by Wernicke's encephalopathy.
"That's a condition which we often identify when people are admitted to hospital, quite classically after a long history of alcohol abuse," he added.
While Wernicke's encephalopathy can be treated, if Korsakoff's psychosis develops, it cannot be cured and can lead to people having to be cared for in a mental health unit.
The doctor, who is based at Cheltenham General Hospital, says the key message is prevention.
"This can occur in people who, without knowing it, are drinking to excess but don't classify themselves as having a drink problem," he explained.
"It's worth these people cutting down and being cautious about their total intake."